My secrets in passing the bar… (Part 2.2)

This should be subtitled:

2. Better English

Think about it. An examiner has the power to change your life. What does he have to evaluate you, to make sure you are worthy?

He has not met you, or if he has, he supposedly does not know it. What is the only thing he has to judge your worthiness to join our ranks?

Your answer.

It’s one thing if you’re answer is correct. But if you do not communicate yours correctly, the answer will come across wrong, the examiner will be so pissed of that he will not let you become a lawyer, even if your answer is correct.

Hence, the need to better your English. I will not lecture you on high school or college English since we suppose you know that already. I will just blog about “bar English.”

Just a few things to remember on grammar and style:


b) There must be consistency in tenses within the paragraph.

c) Omit needless words.

d) Consistency/Unity in thought.

e) Prefer Active than Passive voice

You may have heard of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Read it. It’s only a short book.

The basic bar answer has three parts: 1) The categorical answer, 2) The reasoning and 3) The conclusion (or reiteration). Theoretically, therefore, a bar answer can be as little as a three-sentence paragraph. Of course, if the question is objective, just recite the law, concept or principle being asked. This formula is irrelevant for rote-memory recitations.

Given the amount of test notebooks an examiner has to check, you’ll also be doing him a favor if your answer is as short as possible. Face it. It’s either you know the answer or you don’t. There is no sense in hiding it. Just make an educated guess.

Who knows? You may have a point if eloquently presented. Maybe one point. But there are other questions there that you may know the answer to. Maybe that answer you don’t know is worth only five points. There are 95 other points up for grabs. Or than one point the examiner gave you for good communication skills may be the difference between passing and failing.

a) The categorical answer

This is usually the “Yes” or the “No” part of your bar answer. Just make sure that you answer what is asked. A non-responsive answer is a dead-giveaway that you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. And that will certainly not help to convince the examiner you’re worthy to practice law.

b) The Reasoning

For this part, explain how you arrived at your categorical answer. Here, cite the law or other legal authority to back up your answer.

Be as short as possible here.

c) The Reiteration or Conclusion

This portion wraps your answer up. This may be optional but it helps both you and the examiner cement the thought in both your minds. For you, it’s an opportunity to review whether you arrived at your categorical answer correctly. For the examiner, it’s an opportunity to review that path you took to arrive at your answer.

I’ve heard stories of bar examinees putting prayers or personal appeals addressed to the examiner in their exam notebooks. But you know that’s an appeal to pity (argumentum ad misericordiam). This is not a valid argument in your cause to become a lawyer.

Your examiner knows this and will automatically convince him/her otherwise. So don’t bother attempting this. That’s really not a good idea. I think leaving it blank is better than pulling a stunt like this.

Finally, as in anything, you improve as you practice. There are only a few natural born writers, like La Vida Lawyer who could have gone for a career as such. For most of us, we have to work at it. Believe me, by finishing your degree, you’ve read enough materials to distinguish good writing from the bad. That way, you’ll know how your writing matches up.

It’s a good thing there’s blogging now. You have the opportunity to practice writing. We did not have this when we took the bar. We could have used this kind of practice.

Until next time…



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4 responses to “My secrets in passing the bar… (Part 2.2)

  1. hi!

    first of all, i’m not a lawyer, just another reader who happened to chane upon your blog. second, i don’t know enough about the bar to form an opinion about. but i’m a student too and have taken many exams.

    i think your tips are great and all, but there’s really nothing new to it. every exam that requires you to explain/depend an/your idea should follow a logical train of thought. it should present the facts and draw conclusions upon it (or in the case of law, i guess, judge it according to the particular law that is relevant). now, writing your argument should follow the rules of grammar of the language that you are writing it with.

    so, are these tips not discussed or pointed out in law reviews? reviewers usually give tips on exam preparation and test. if not, i can’t imagine paying so much for a review that will just give me reading materials when i can get those materials and read them myself. given the noteriety of the bar exam, and the people who take them (most should be smart enough to be in law school, i would think), i would think these things are obvious. besides, they have exams like these in law school or law review, right?

  2. Thank you for that comment.

    Unfortunately, the review classes don’t take this up in law review. They assume you know this already. Since the material coverage is huge (way huge than a student not studying law can even imagine), these reviewers focus mainly on the material and not on how to take the exams.

    Again, the material is likewise huge that reviewees don’t even bother to think about these things. That’s probably why I felt the need to blog about them.

    But this reasoning does not apply to the handwriting problem. I’m pretty sure they will not teach that in review and/or it is not obvious.

    If you don’t have any concern about your handwriting, this will likewise be useless to you. But if you are, stick around for the next blogs…


  3. even though i am not studying law, i believe you when you say that the materials covered is huge. i would guess that studying even landmark cases would take a long time.

    but wouldn’t a little exercise in common sense lead to this too? or is common sense not so common anymore in many law students? besides, they’ve spent a good 20 or so years of their lives taking exams.

    as for handwriting, isn’t that common sense too? i mean, if your handwriting cannot be understood, how do you think it’s gonna be graded? and people know if they have bad handwriting because sometimes even they can’t read what they’ve (hand)written. i have bad handwriting but i always make a conscious attempt to write legibly whenever i take exams.

    i guess the best advice are: study well starting the first day you get into law school, learn how to express yourself clearly in the language of the law, develop logical thinking and critical skills, establish connections with peers and colleagues. but these things apply to most any fields of study.

    but don’t let me discourage you in writing out your tips. they are informative and some would-be lawyers find them useful. 🙂

  4. It’s easy for you to say common sense but we’re lawyers. Who says we have common sense? 🙂

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